When sci-fi and horror come together seamlessly, the result can be truly special. And like what Ridley Scott’s classic Alien did for movies back in 1979, Dead Space replicated for video games nearly three decades later.
To this day, the 2008 title is still considered one of the best horror gaming experiences in history — particularly for those in the mood for terrifying sci-fi — and the game itself has influenced the way many developers craft an unforgettably frightening atmosphere and narrative.
Throughout the game, a sense of dread hangs in the air as the player navigates through a Necromorph-infested spaceship as an engineer. The knowledge that danger lurks around every corner is particularly discomforting in the claustrophobic setting of the USG Ishimura, while the understanding that you don’t necessarily have the abilities or resources to kill every enemy means any wrong decision can lead to a Game Over screen.
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After a pair of sequels and two other spinoff games launched over the next five years, Dead Space is back via EA’s Motive Studio for the first time in a decade with a brand new remake of the original game. Along with the remake of the game for modern consoles, the atmospheric soundtrack also gets a revamp. Original series composer Jason Graves’ ambient and orchestral scores will return to the game, while brand new pieces by Trevor Gureckis will add to the tension.
Since the last time Graves’ music graced a Dead Space game, he’s become one of the industry’s go-to names for horror — known for his work in Supermassive Games’ popular Until Dawn and Dark Pictures Anthology titles. As for Gureckis, Dead Space marks a major milestone, both as the biggest game he’s worked on so far and one of his old favorites. AltPress spoke with both Graves and Gureckis separately about their work on the series and the legacy it’s carried going into the remake’s upcoming release on January 27.
Considering Dead Space’s legacy and how much fans enjoyed the original, what’s it like to see the game and your soundtrack get updated for modern consoles?
Jason Graves: It’s amazing. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 15 years since the original Dead Space came out. I’m so excited that an entirely new generation of players will get the chance to experience all the chills and thrills of visiting the USG Ishimura for the first time. It’s exciting, to say the least.
Trevor Gureckis: I played the original myself. As a composer, I was really impressed and inspired when I first played and heard the score. It was really incredible music for a video game back in 2008, and I’d never heard anything like it. So when this came up, I was like “Oh, my gosh! What am I going to do?” The idea was to take some opportunities in the remake to explore new themes and connect ideas that weren’t done in the original. So, my role started with making some really specific themes for characters like Nicole, the main character’s girlfriend, and really specific moments that we could highlight in the new game.
Is there anything that stands out to you about when you were working on Dead Space?
Graves: The most readily available memory I have of working on [the original] Dead Space was just the sheer amount of time I spent working on the score. I was simply working on it all the time, regardless of whatever else was going on. Riding in the backseat of a truck on the way to a gig with a band? Working on the game on my laptop, usually prepping scores for recording. At a huge game conference on the other side of the world? Ducking back to my hotel room every chance I got to edit recording session audio. The list goes on.
Gureckis: I think just the scope of it. It was definitely the biggest project I’ve ever worked on. We had three full orchestral and choir sessions, and work on those went from 2020 to 2022. I started doing the demos and coming up with the ideas, and then I orchestrated it out, recorded in Nashville, and put it all together for the music editors. A lot of the new score still maintains a lot of the big orchestra sound with slamming brass hits and all that kind of stuff for when there are big events. There’s also some violin craziness and a choir screaming and making vocal sounds. There are just a lot of fun, different things that were experiments to create new sounds.
What, in your opinion, goes into making a score scary or atmospheric for a title like Dead Space?
Graves: Every game is different, so each score needs to be just as unique. For me, music that is “scary” has a lot of unknown or unpredictable elements to it. Questionable sounds, unrecognizable noises, musical phrases that don’t do what the listener expects — basically breaking as many musical rules as possible. It’s all about setting up expectations and then, “Boo!” delivering something the listener was not expecting.
Gureckis: I would compose against YouTube videos to get the atmosphere right because I didn’t really have a lot of game capture. I’d pull up a YouTube video, mute it, and just get a sense of what feels right. As a gamer myself, I was intrigued by making sure that the intensity was high enough for Dead Space. That was something we worked on a lot — and the theme for the biggest boss character is probably the craziest track I’ve ever written. We also explored the idea of the music changing over time in the game. I created layers that can be added on to the music as the corruption happens throughout the atmosphere in the game, because that’s important to the storyline. As you get further and further, things get more and more out of control. So, I created these layers to heighten that sense of the narrative the further you go in the game.
Jason, when you made the original Dead Space score, did you have any notion of how beloved the game and score would become?
Graves: I had no idea, whatsoever. At the time, I assumed the game would do relatively well and thought the music would simply be lost to obscurity — for no other reason than that it was simply so brutal, so visceral, and non-musical. Perfect for the game, but not necessarily something that would play well as a standalone [original soundtrack]. As it turns out, all those attributes I assumed were negative were actually very positive. It’s so great that a lot of people enjoy being scared.
Trevor, what was it like to work on a project where you were effectively building on Jason’s pre-existing score?
Gureckis: My task was to expand upon some narrative goals that they didn’t really have when they were working on the first game. There was a new opportunity to do some things that weren’t possible the first time. We knew we’d maintain some of the cues from the original for the general walking around and such, but even then, there’s always going to be stuff that’s pulled out of a queue that I’ve written. Having said that, the idea was still to heighten the narrative level, so I got to talk with the writer for the remake, Jo Berry. She did a presentation of the whole story in a way that I’d never seen before — as a “descent into Hell,” essentially. It really crystallized the idea that we’re all going on this journey, so I was constantly finding ways of corrupting sound and changing sounds. That was my task, based on the narrative direction. I think Jason Graves masterfully created this universe and lore of Dead Space, and I’m in this remake to add more texture, detail, and cover the offshoots of the story.
Not including the remake, what’s your favorite Dead Space game?
Graves: If I had to choose, I would probably pick Dead Space 2. I think the team and I really hit our stride with the sequel. We had already proven ourselves with the original release, and EA gave us complete ownership of the sequel. My instructions were something along the lines of, “So… the first one was just so great… just do more of that, please!” It was quite a freeing and liberating project to work on.
Gureckis: I never played Dead Space 2 or Dead Space 3, so it has to be the original. I do recall my roommate at the time playing the second one and really liking it a lot. I would sit back and watch him play that one, and it would definitely look cool. But the first one was great. It was a lot of fun — and crazy. It’s amazing how it holds up when I see people play it. The PC version still looks so great, and it still sounds great.